Create Native Content — depending on the social network, “native” content means different things. On Instagram, it’s a beautiful picture. On Tiktok, it’s a great video. On Linkedin, it’s a story about a work scenario. So, if you really want to blow up on LinkedIn, you need to post great content about work situations. It’s critical to share how you got to where you are in your career. Your successes, your failures, and everything in between! I started taking off when I shared one of my first dips into the professional realm, which was when I dropped out of UCLA to start Tenzo.
As part of my series of interviews about “How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve O’Dell.
Steve grew up in Rochester, New York as the youngest of five boys. A natural athlete, Steve followed his brothers’ footsteps and played sports, excelling at volleyball. At 12, he met a 6’4 inch 14-year-old Robbie Page, as they were both dominating the high school volleyball scene on the East Coast.The friends escaped the North East winters and moved to sunny Los Angeles to play as teammates for Division 1 UCLA.
As a student, he studied History, built several startups, and traveled for volleyball. With just a semester until graduation, college life no longer made sense to Steve. Entrepreneur-fever struck him hard, so he dropped out of school. Robbie took him in on his couch, and there they started Tenzo, a matcha company. Despite very little experience in running a company, no funding, and consumers not having ever heard of matcha, they used their competitive sports mindset to their advantage and kept moving forward, learning, and never quitting.
With Steve as CEO and Tenzo past the awkward startup years, his leadership continues to propel the company forward after having created a market where there was none. Tenzo is currently one of the fastest growing Consumer Packaged Goods companies in the U.S. Steve’s leadership style is known to be fast-moving, brave, and compassionate and he has built up a loyal following on his LinkedIn platform.
In between long work hours, Steve is a voracious reader and loves writing and learning.
When he’s not building Tenzo, you can find Steve reading a good book, meditating, or going for a walk. He’s passionate about giving back to causes that help people and help the planet, as well as mentoring new entrepreneurs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
One day, after drinking too much coffee I felt sick, anxious, and jittery. So I googled, “what is the healthiest form of energy” and discovered matcha. I started reading up on the research behind it and realized that it was a shade grown powdered form of green tea. It has the perfect amount of natural caffeine and l-theanine which provide a long lasting zen-like energy, instead of the roller coaster effect of coffee. It’s also loaded up with healthy antioxidants which support a number of different functions, but namely immune support.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I had a meeting with our lawyer one day at a cafe that sold Tenzo, close to the beach. I got there about a half hour early to journal and read. I was walking along the boardwalk looking for a good spot when I ran into Jeff Bezos. I politely went up to him, introduced myself, and told him I very much respected his work. It was an incredible 30 seconds. So I called my co-founder, Robbie Page. He thought it was cool but asked “what did you do about it?” I realized I hadn’t done anything. So, I immediately biked 3 miles back to my office. Created a super nice package of Tenzo, and wrote him a respectful and humble letter, specifically highlighting some key commonalities about both of our entrepreneurial journeys. Then, I biked back to a hotel along the boardwalk where I thought he might be staying. As I was 10 feet from the door, he walked out and we spent the next several minutes talking. I told him all about Tenzo, showed him the package, and gave him the letter. It was incredible! As I was walking home astounded at all that happened, I got two emails from Jeff himself congratulating me on the product with a picture of him making a Tenzo and one saying “No regrets!!!” which referenced my letter.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we were first starting, we wanted to be “vertically integrated” but didn’t understand what that truly meant. So we bought this big office/warehouse on the second floor of an office building in Santa Monica. We spent a year lugging packages up and down the stairs and breaking down pallets in the middle of the street.
It was a really novice mistake and caused an insane amount of operational work. The lesson: outsource your fulfillment until it makes sense to bring it in-house!
Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?
We’ve found that Facebook is the most effective social media platform to increase revenues. They have the most advanced ad platform which allows you to put your product and offering right in front of prospective buyers. However, a word of caution is necessary. When we first started, we spent considerable money on ads, without understanding all the costs. For example, if you’re not profitable on every purchase you need to understand the payback period. We just blindly believed that the customers would come back and buy again. It turned out that our customer reorder rate was not as high as we guessed, and this led us to dial back paid spending until we improved the product and refined our understanding of data. Now, we’re armed with a strong subscription offering, and have a very clear understanding of churn rate, lifetime value, and the payback period on our expenses. Make sure you understand the data before you spend!
Let’s talk about LinkedIn specifically, now. Can you share 5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.
- Find the Format — on any given social network there are many different formats which you can use. For example, on LinkedIn — there are pictures, text, stories, essays, videos, and plain text. You can pick any one of them to try and convey your message. I was lucky enough to learn from a close friend several years ago that the best performing format was plain text. So, I focused on writing great content which the algorithm rewarded. At any given time on each social network there will be a format which the algorithm deems the best, and it gets the most views/virality. Do some testing, find the best one, and then create as much content as you can.
- Find your Audience — when I first started, I had no idea what to post. I tried quotes, stories, general entrepreneurship tips, and even news hacking. Overtime, I realized that all of these can work well, but they must always go back to your audience. If you post content that’s out of line with your core audience, then you’ll be deemed confusing, hypocritical, and more. Stay away from that, and stay consistent!
- Create Native Content — depending on the social network, “native” content means different things. On Instagram, it’s a beautiful picture. On Tiktok, it’s a great video. On Linkedin, it’s a story about a work scenario. So, if you really want to blow up on LinkedIn, you need to post great content about work situations. It’s critical to share how you got to where you are in your career. Your successes, your failures, and everything in between! I started taking off when I shared one of my first dips into the professional realm, which was when I dropped out of UCLA to start Tenzo.
- Connect with your Peers — There is a quote that says “a rising tide lifts all boats.” One of the most effective ways to grow your presence on LinkedIn is to connect with others who have a similar size following and to cross promote each other’s work — through comments, shares, or shoutouts!
- Connect with your Teachers — This is the real money maker. If you have been consistent with your posting and content, you will attract people who are, figuratively speaking, your “teachers” — the people in careers who have reached heights you hope you’ll reach one day. This was especially important for me because it helped to attract a handful of investment into Tenzo. In fact, our largest investor was someone who reached out to me on LinkedIn — a pretty atypical situation for most founders!
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement to rewrite the UN legislation to impose stricter accountability and unification between nations. Whether people want to admit it or not, we are a global society and need to work together to preserve humanity’s place in the universe.
Overall, I would hope this movement would help establish all the basics in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs worldwide. Fresh water, food, shelter, healthcare for everyone on the planet. Living in a developed country hides you from the fact that hundreds of millions of people lack these basic necessities.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Bill Gates. He’s incredibly inspiring for not only being the founder of Microsoft, but more importantly, the work he has done after. Bill will go down in history as one of the greatest businessmen in the world. Not for software, but for his impact on humanity.
The second person is Lebron James — not only the greatest basketball player ever, but a world class human that uses his platform to support underserved communities.
Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!